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State budget action expected to wrap up this week

800px-Michigan_state_capitol.jpg
Brian Charles Watson
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The Legislature is expected to approve a budget agreement this week and send it to Governor Gretchen Whitmer. She will almost certainly sign it, which would avert a partial government shutdown when the state’s new fiscal year begins October 1st.

It’s no secret these budgets bills are moving with unusual speed. That’s after Whitmer and legislative leaders reached a bipartisan spending deal last week.

What is a secret is what’s in that deal.

A joint statement from budget leaders was rife with safe and banal language designed to avoid enflaming partisan tensions that could collapse the deal.

“This is a budget that is good for Michigan,” was the quote from Budget Director Dave Massaron, representing the Whitmer administration. “It reflects shared priorities that will move Michigan forward as we continue to emerge from the pandemic as an even stronger state.”

From Republican Senate Appropriations Committee Jim Stamas:

“The last year and a half has been hard on all of our families and communities. Addressing their needs --from jobs to education to government accountability -- is at the center of today’s budget deal. By working together our divided Michigan government has shown what can be accomplished when Michigan families are put first.

And from House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert, also a Republican:

“This is a significant step forward. A historic investment in schools already has been finalized, and now we are close to finishing work on other parts of the state budget that will help meet the needs of Michigan residents and continue the state’s recovery from the COVID pandemic. I would like to thank Budget Director Massaron and Senate Appropriations Chair Stamas for their work, and I look forward to votes on the budget soon.”

The joint statement reflects the concern that freelance communications could derail the deal in a period of intense rancor over the state’s COVID-19 response – including Whitmer’s use of emergency orders -- eroding confidence in elections, and how (and for some Republicans, whether) to use federal COVID-19 response funds.

That COVID money has also given the Whitmer administration and lawmakers a record amount of revenue to work with. That’s a situation that solves some problems but can also create conflicts on spending priorities.

Details will likely leak out as the budgets are outlined to rank-and-file lawmakers and interest groups. The goal for leadership is to keep this deal on a fast track so the budget can be finalized within two or three days – compacting a process that typically takes months.

The two budget bills deal with appropriations for public universities and for state departments and agencies. A separate bill for K-through-12 schools has already been adopted and signed by the governor.

The next step is to move the bills quickly through the committee process and floor votes in the House and the Senate. That process typically takes months, but will take less than a week if things go as planned.